August 2013

August 25, 2013

Dear Parishioners and Friends,

Out of 67 total parishes in our Diocese of Baton Rouge there are 8 “clusters” of 2 or 3 parishes. In addition to those 8 pastors, another 10 pastors also minister away from their principal parish church building on Sunday, at a “mission” chapel in another town. Believe me, the other 25 of us active diocesan priests who are pastors with just one worship space rarely feel very jealous of those other, “circuit riding” guys!

Still, it truly is the rare priest who ministers to just one congregation. Most every parish territory contains at least one school, hospital, nursing home, assisted living institution, etc., that also demands a separate ministry. And more and more of our parishes are hosting and sometimes providing additional services in Spanish as these Catholics in our nation increase in numbers.
One of my fellow priests observed a few weeks ago that, in reality, here at the Cathedral there are two distinct communities too. At and after our weekend Masses our “parish” family assembles to pray, offer sacrifice, and hear and study God’s word – and enjoy fellowship over coffee and doughnuts as much as they can! But when you stop to think about it, on weekdays the flock of the Cathedral is a different one.

At our noontime confessions and Masses another community assembles on weekdays. These are people from across the Baton Rouge metro area who work in the many State office buildings and other commercial offices downtown. They’re parishioners from at least a dozen other Church parishes. Here in our venerable Cathedral we’re able to offer a little oasis of prayerful quiet as well as liturgical services for them. It’s of course gratifying to offer the Sacrament of Penance to them, as many Catholics prefer to confess their sins to a priest outside of their “home” parish. I also prize the opportunity to offer good, dependable weekday Masses to people from other parishes.

In so doing, of course, we utilize parishioners from other parishes to help as readers, altar servers, and extraordinary ministers of holy communion (yes, we offer the Eucharist under the forms of both bread and wine at all Masses, for this is what the Church says is best). It’s a cooperative effort at its finest, and I thank them for it! And so I periodically issue a request to our regular visitors to volunteer to help in these ways. Since they all read our Bulletin either electronically or “in the pew” when here, this is a good way to make sure everyone knows not only how much we appreciate them but also knows of the ongoing need for additional assistance at weekday Mass. Give a call to the Parish Office if this is a service you think you can help with!

Sincerely in the Lord.

August 18, 2013

Dear Parishioners and Friends,

As I hope you know, later this year we will – God willing! – break ground on our new Parish Hall. We are in the final full year of the three-year “pledge payback” period of our 2011 capital campaign entitled Together for Tomorrow, and so the proximate plans for construction are ramping up. I hope you are getting just as excited as I am, finally to see tangible progress on a long-held dream of our Parish and indeed of the broader Church and community of Baton Rouge.

Last week I joined our architects Raymond “Skipper” Post and his associate Rachel Riley in meeting with the diocesan Building Review Board to review the construction-documents. As these continue to be put together, it’s important that all of the pertinent building- and safety-codes be scrupulously adhered-to. Beyond that, we want to make sure that when we do begin to build, we do so with the best possible plans and approaches. This is why our diocese assists its Parishes with various consultative bodies of experts: oh, yes, at times going to these meetings can seem like just another hoop to jump through, but in the end the whole careful process of review-and-approval is meant to ensure a quality job.

In any event, the Building Review Board made a few helpful suggestions regarding our plans, but at the same time verified that the project is a sound one. To remind everyone, especially those who may be new to our Parish family, what we shall do is completely renovate our existing Parish Hall, expanding its largest assembly area and adjoining kitchen to more than twice their present sizes. The bathrooms in the Hall will increase to almost four times their present capacities. The new assembly area and a new large multipurpose room will be configurable into smaller areas that can be used for small group meetings, wedding preparations, religious education classes, and so forth. The choir rehearsal space will be upgraded, and a covered “porte-cochère” entrance through the Hall into the Cathedral itself will be added. A completely new air-conditioning system for both the new Hall and for the Cathedral itself will be installed, and lighting within the building (and landscaping around it!) will be improved.

All of this will come at a cost well in excess of $3 million, but we are confident that this will not become a burden; Bishop Muench has been insistent all along that this project not incur any debt for our Parish. True, we will be using up virtually all of our savings (which have been put aside precisely for this sort of thing!), but because of your generosity over the years and most recently to the Together for Tomorrow campaign, we already have on hand roughly two-thirds of the costs. The promised assistance of the bishop and the additional help of donors throughout the diocese to the Bishop’s Annual Appeal will be the source of the remainder of the necessary funds.

Our Parish’s own Finance Council has given its approval for construction to begin. In the next week or so the diocesan Finance Council and a special body of priests called the College of Consultors each will consider the project and provide the final, formal recommendations for approval by the bishop. Then it will be a matter of putting the project out for bid, and allowing sufficient time for invited general contractors to submit their proposals. The foreseen timetable sees us breaking ground in November, give or take a few weeks.

Now I’ll be honest: building this new building won’t be all peaches and cream! Heck, I’m already not looking forward to the first step of cleaning out all of the stuff in the “old” Hall and finding a place to store the things we need to keep! The mud and noise of construction six days a week, which is projected to last about a year, will be a major pain-in-the-you-know-where. The smaller number of parking places available in our parking lot, especially during construction when materials and workers’ spaces will take up almost all of it, will be a constant headache. I’m praying hard that we don’t suffer any reduction in income and attendance during construction. We’re going to have to endure changes to our regular schedule of activities and services, and perhaps do without some things completely, for quite a while until the building is complete. Fortunately, our Parish family is not just generous with financial donations but is supremely understanding and generous with patience! I’m sure we’ll get through it with smiles still on our faces and peace still in our hearts!

In closing, then, I’m begging your continued prayers and sacrificial giving for this project. It’s never too late for both!

August 11, 2013

Dear Parishioners and Friends,

This weekend’s Second Reading is taken from the Letter to the Hebrews. It’s a fairly long exposition of the theological virtue of faith. Humans have an immense capacity to believe in things that are difficult, even impossible, to prove from a scientific or experiential perspective. And the most central object of faith of course has to be the very existence of God, along with the fact that He will never forsake those who trust in Him.

The Old Testament patriarch Abraham is held up to us as a model and example of faith, and the text (from chapter 11) points out in an especially poignant way that he held fast to his faith even though he was not rewarded in this life for it. He had been promised an inheritance, that he would be the father of a great nation. Given the advanced age of him and of his wife Sarah, this seemed an illogical, very unlikely, prospect. Yet being a man of faith he still “understood that the One who had made the promise was trustworthy” (v. 11) and clung confidently to this promise nonetheless. His fidelity – although it sure looked like stubbornness at the time, I’ll admit – eventually was proved true when the near-miraculous son of his old age – Isaac – was born, and in turn fathered Jacob, whose 12 sons became the foundation of the Hebrew people.

This is a particularly timely message given that the first encyclical of Pope Francis is devoted to the topic of how faith is crucial to our spiritual life. Entitled “Lumen Fidei” (which is Latin for “The Light of Faith”), it was just released in early July. Work on its text had been begun last year by Pope Benedict XVI, but was finished by the present Holy Father.
The title itself already hints at the crucial role faith plays for us, since it enables a person to understand everything in a way which is coherent and meaningful. “The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence,” the pope wrote. He went on to note that the very fact that believers find faith so important is itself an indicator of something greater than the merely human: as Pope Francis said, “A light this powerful cannot come from ourselves but from a more primordial source: in a word, it must come from God.”
Of course, the encyclical’s central focus is on our faith in Jesus, and in the unique, transforming power of this kind of belief. Christian faith provides us with a perspective that’s impossible to get in any other way. “Faith does not merely gaze at Jesus, but sees things as Jesus Himself sees them, with His own eyes: it is a participation in His way of seeing,” the pope said.

Pope Francis offered down-to-earth examples and comparisons in a way that is most characteristic of his “style” of preaching and teaching. “We trust the architect who builds our home, the pharmacist who gives us medicine for healing, the lawyer who defends us in court,” he noted. “We also need somebody trustworthy and knowledgeable where God is concerned. Jesus, the Son of God, is the one who makes God known to us.” This is why we feel the need to turn to Christ in faith, and why ultimately we’re never disappointed when we do.

True, believing in Christ at first is not easy. The Holy Father acknowledged that “Faith is no refuge for the fainthearted,” going on to say that nonetheless it’s “something which enhances our lives. It makes us aware of a magnificent calling, the vocation of love. It assures us that this love is trustworthy and worth embracing, for it is based on God’s faithfulness, which is stronger than every weakness of ours.” In the end, then, faith “transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness. It is a question about the origin of all that is, in whose light we can glimpse the goal and thus the meaning of our common path.”

While our Christian belief in God also under girds many contemporary concerns (and the pope mentioned quite a few in his encyclical, including the environment, international relations, economic development, religious freedom, and the political process – all of which must be organized “for the service of the common good”), it also is the essential basis for our religion. For example, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of mercy and reconciliation when he wrote, “Faith likewise offers the possibility of forgiveness, which so often demands time and effort, patience and commitment. Forgiveness is possible once we discover that goodness is always prior to and more powerful than evil, and that the word with which God affirms our life is deeper than our every denial.”

While it’s a pretty long document (28 normal-sized pages in the edition I’ve got!), I still recommend it to you. It’s a wonderful treatment of faith in salvation history and in many practical applications in our own life today.

Sincerely in our shared faith in Christ.